A RUNNER who suffered a cardiac arrest whilst out training for last year’s Great North Run will take on the virtual 13-mile feat later this month.

John Gray, from Newton Aycliffe, has taken part in every Great North Run since 1981 and volunteered at the start line baggage buses for 35 years.

He was not going to let anything stop him completing the event last year.

The 73-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest in May 2019 whilst out running in his village and died for 14 minutes until paramedics saved his life.

He was placed on life support and put into an induced coma, before having a double heart bypass operation and an internal cardiac defibrillator inserted in his chest.

After five weeks in hospital, he was determined to keep his ‘all Great North Run club’ status and was delighted when doctors gave him the all clear to walk the half marathon as long as he had someone with him for safety reasons.

He said: “Last year’s Great North Run gave me more pleasure than any of the other 38. I felt very emotional at the finish.

“I remember nothing at all about the cardiac arrest and the following ten days as I was on heavy sedation. I only recognised visitors when I was moved to a general intensive care ward.

“After I got out of hospital in June after five weeks of treatment I started to walk a quarter of a mile, then half a mile, and eventually in August I managed ten miles accompanied by two friends from my running club. It was then that I knew I had a chance of completing the Great North Run if doctors would give their permission.”

Mr Gray, who is the treasurer for Shildon Running and Athletics Club, arrives at the start line early every year to volunteer at the baggage buses, before taking on the 13.1 miles himself.

He said: “I enjoy helping out at the start and making sure all the baggage bus helpers are ok. Although my main job is answering questions about where certain colour buses are and the volunteers do the stamping and bag count.”

The Virtual Great North Run will see runners all over the world complete 13.1 miles on September 13, where they live using their own route, after the 40th staging of the event was cancelled due to the pandemic.

It is free to enter and open to everyone regardless of whether they had a place in this year’s event, and runners are encouraged to raise money for charity.

Mr Gray said: “I walked last year’s event in under four hours and I intend to beat that time by at least 30 minutes when I complete the Virtual Great North Run. I’m planning a route along the Auckland Way.”

Virtual Great North Run entries close today.

Visit greatrun.org/north